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Verstappen takes control of F1 title race
Dutchman makes it three wins in 15 days at Austria GP

SPIELBERG, Austria: Max Verstappen of Red Bull made it three wins in 15 days at Sunday's Formula One Austrian Grand Prix to leave thoughts of an epic title fight with champion Lewis Hamilton starting to become a distant memory.

Verstappen started from pole and cruised to his 15th career win and fifth of the season with four of them coming in the last five races.

That has transformed a deficit in the title standings to Hamilton to a now 32-point lead - more than a full race win worth 25 - with Mercedes simply unable to match the pace of their rivals.

Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes took second but was some 17 seconds behind and Lando Norris of McLaren completed the podium.

Hamilton limped in to fourth - where he started - after suffering damage to the rear of his car.

And after winning in France late last month and the Styrian Grand Prix at the same Spielberg venue last week, Verstappen and Red Bull will carry tremendous momentum into Hamilton's home British Grand Prix on July 18.

That race will take place in front of a full house at Silverstone as the United Kingdom eases coronavirus restrictions - as Austria did in Spielberg.

For the first time in the pandemic a huge crowd, including several thousand orange-clad fans from the Netherlands, were able to attend the Red Bull Ring.

They were treated to a victory from Dutch driver Verstappen that was never in doubt from the moment he closed off Norris in the dash to the first corner.

"Today was incredible to be honest, the car was on rails," Verstappen said in television interviews. "It was really enjoyable to drive.

"You go into the weekend as the favourite, but it's never easy to do.

"It was insane to see all the fans and so much orange."

The sole drama in the race came shortly after when the safety car caused by Esteban Ocon crashing his Alpine came in four laps later as Bottas briefly got the better of Hamilton.

But with Sergio Perez challenging Norris round the outside, his Red Bull ended up in the gravel as the Briton refused to concede space.

That allowed both Mercedes drivers to move up behind Norris, who bravely held off Hamilton for 15 laps before easing up when told of a5-second penalty for the earlier incident.

Bottas took third when he followed Norris into the pit on lap 31, a move for fresh rubber followed immediately by Hamilton and Verstappen.

Red Bull delivered a precise change to ensure there was no slip for Verstappen who emerged with a massive lead over Hamilton which he easily defended for the rest of a 71-lap stroll.

He even had time to pit again on lap 61 in successful pursuit of the fastest lap bonus point.

Mercedes switched Bottas and Hamilton on lap 52 and Norris soon followed past the defenceless champion, who did at least hold his next position after a further pit.

"It was a good race - it was exciting but I'm disappointed because we should've been P2, I thought Lap 1 was just racing," said Norris,while Bottas said it was "nice to be on the podium again," while acknowledging "McLaren were really quick today, they were putting on the pressure."

Perez fought back but also picked up two 5-second penalties for separate contacts with the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc to finish sixth behind Carlos Sainz in the other Ferrari.

Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren), Leclerc, Pierre Gasly (Alpha Tauri) and Fernando Alonso (Alpine) completed the top 10 with George Russell of Williams again shy of his first career point in 11th. -- dpa

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